The Years Ahead For ... Outdoor

Paul Shearring expects to see a switch in outdoor emphasis from investment and inventory to creativity and driving standards.

The prognosis for UK out-of-home in 2010, after the year we have just experienced, is a challenging one, as it must have been for all budget forecasts for this year. However, one undeniable trend that sustains positivity in this sector is the ever- increasing OOH audience as people continue to spend more time outside of their homes.

While 2010 will undoubtedly be another difficult year, I believe that the underlying traditional strengths of the medium coupled with sustained investment in digital technology and audience research will continue to prove the effectiveness and value of the OOH medium.

The recession has driven change and evolution across traditional and non-traditional OOH formats. Flexibility is now something we can talk about across all formats with digital printing, fast turnaround of copy and 24-hour posting available across poster sites and of course digital, which enables day parting, dynamic copy, live feeds and interaction. These changes allow OOH media to compete with the budgets of other responsive mediums.

Earlier this year, a digital OOH campaign for Orange Wednesdays ran across rail and Underground stations reminding commuters to "make the most of Orange Wednesdays" and catch up with friends. The campaign ran Mondays to Wednesdays only, targeting commuters on their way to and from work. By the second week of the campaign, Orange had its biggest ever week with more than 260,000 ticket requests for Wednesday evening.

Clearly digital inventory will continue to expand in 2010. This year, I expect to see a switch in emphasis from investment and inventory to creativity and driving standards. Phenomenal growth and the sheer diversity of formats in DOOH have led to an inevitable gap between product development and knowledge of best practice for the medium. While digital delivers more targeted time-sensitive campaigns, the increasing interaction between outdoor and mobile will shift the focus to call-to-action campaigns. I expect interactive campaigns to be an important area for OOH this year.

The growth of mobile marketing is an exciting development for outdoor as it offers audiences instant access to brand communication. This means advertisers can now book a broadcast level campaign that also delivers the ability to interact on an intimate one-to-one basis with consumers. Increasingly, posters will act as signposts to a range of interactive services, providing travel guides at airports or quick-response codes at shopping centres. We will also start to see the beginnings of sponsored Wi-Fi pages acting as posters and linking to interactive and location-based services.

One of the biggest changes in outdoor this year will be in the area of measurement and accountability. The sheer number of formats and the increasing ability to buy "airtime" across OOH raises the issue of accountability. The current economic climate also ensures that return on investment remains top of mind for our clients.

Media owners have already made significant improvements in accountability. All the major outdoor media owners now offer sophisticated proof of posting systems so that advertisers can view their ads in situ the moment they are posted and digital formats bring comprehensive real-time reporting to advertisers.

However, it is the relaunch of Postar, the new standard industry measurement system, which looks set to revolutionise audience metrics and trading styles. A move towards audience-focused metrics will be of benefit to the advertising fraternity as a whole.

The new Postar measurement system uses GPS meters to track people's journeys throughout the day and will bring a new level of accuracy to data that can only improve advertiser confidence in the medium. It should also show a much larger total outdoor audience, possibly up by 20 per cent as it picks up on all those journeys that people forget to tell interviewers.

As this data is used in conjunction with Touchpoints, TGI reports and Kinetic's Moving World research, we will be able to provide insights into how people consume the medium and how they behave when on the move.

The data and insight OOH is able to deliver proves how effective the medium can be, on its own and when used with other media. We are experiencing more demand for data and intelligence as consumer knowledge becomes paramount to advertisers generally. OOH is a data-rich medium offering insight and understanding as to where people live, work, shop and socialise.

2009 saw a proliferation of econometrics studies driven by the Outdoor Advertising Association that finally delivered proof that OOH makes an above-average contribution to media profitability.

Broadly, the analysis shows outdoor to be equally as effective as TV - and generally more cost-effective when production costs are taken into account. Outdoor has always been used to enhance the benefits of other media but analysis now also shows that it consistently improves over time in terms of ROI, where other media, online excepted, have flattened.

In addition, we also have some key social and leisure activity on the calendar for 2010 that will bolster OOH.

We will have a General Election this year and political parties are traditionally heavy users of OOH as they aim to get key messages to the electorate in an impactful way. Advertising spending caps on political parties at a General Election will mean no availability issues for advertisers in the run-up to the election date.

The lead-up to the World Cup in South Africa will also bring the usual feverish activity and hype. OOH will play a major role for the sponsors and all other advertisers looking for standout at the global football festival.

Finally, the Olympics are already generating a lot of preliminary work for the industry, where once again the demand for OOH opportunities should be a feature of all media plans.The OOH investment in inventory, flexibility and research will deliver even greater value as we near to 2012.

OOH has had a tough 2009, but we enter 2010 in a cautious but confident mood. As OOH audiences continue to grow, so too does the level of sophistication in our understanding of them, their behaviour and how best to reach them on the move.

Accountability and measurement is becoming more accurate and comprehensive, and the introduction of Postar's new measurement system later this year will start the process of change in outdoor trading, although it is likely to take another couple of years before we see a trading model completely based on audience metrics.

- Paul Shearring is the chief executive of Kinetic.